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Mapping the Intensity of Fishing in the Northeast Using Gears that may Damage Deep-Sea Corals

Project Goal

To analyze bottom fishing activities that may damage deep-sea corals and to investigate federal fishery data sources for incidents of corals that may have been accidentally caught while fishing (“bycatch”).

Geographic Location

Northeast continental shelf, offshore of Maine to Cape Hatteras, NC


Investigating the relationship between known locations of deep-sea corals and fishing activities that may damage them requires knowledge of the specific location of fishing activities. There are several methods for assigning fishing activities to a specific location. Fishing activity can be directly observed through on-board observers or other at-sea methods. A second approach is through self-reporting of fishing location by fishermen. This information can be collected either through dockside interviews or through information submitted by fishermen. Finally, the growing use of vessel monitoring systems (VMS) may allow identifying the location of fishing activity through analysis of position information. Federal fishing data will also be reviewed for incidents of coral by-catch with the idea of testing for correlations between potential coral bycatch in the surveys, known deep-sea coral locations, and areas of high fishing intensity.


The accuracy of vessel trip reports (VTR) was assessed against other fishery data sources such as on-board observer information and data from VMS equipment installed on vessels in order to map the intensity of bottom fishing. The trip reports record the location of fishing activity, and the VMS data can show whether a vessel is fishing or not. A database was created that links fishing trips across VTR, on-board observer, and VMS databases for all possible trips. The accuracy of the database is currently being assessed. Federal fishery data information for deep-sea coral by-catch is also being assessed. However, because there were very limited collections of deep-sea corals caught as bycatch, it will not be possible to test for correlations between the bycatch, known coral locations, and areas of high fishing intensity.

Importance to Management

The effects of fishing on deep-sea corals and their habitats in the northeastern U.S. are unknown, so this project will help to understand where and how much fishing occurs in relation to deep-sea coral habitat, and to measure the deep-sea coral bycatch in the various fishery surveys that the federal government conducts. The general lack of deep-sea coral in the federal fisheries surveys may be due to the surveys fishing too shallow to encounter the larger deep-sea coral species as well as these larger corals being possibly “fished out” earlier in the 20th century.

Fiscal Year 2009 Funding


Point of Contact

Dave Packer, Dave.Packer@noaa.gov
Chad Demarest, Chad.Demarest@noaa.gov